Increased screen-time might be impacting the physical structure of children's brains

The increasing usage and integration of smartphones in our lives, and those of our children, in particular, has often garnered criticism from many. As such, people have been wary about the potential downsides of the rampancy and what it entails. And one study probes into this issue.

A study, published recently on JAMA Pediatrics aimed to answer whether screen-based media use by children was linked to handicapped literacy and language skills.

Question: Is screen-based media use associated with differences in the structural integrity of brain white matter tracts that support language and literacy skills in preschool-aged children?

The team of researchers studied 47 healthy three- to five-year-olds as part of the study. The children's parents were asked to fill a survey that asked questions pertaining to the frequency, type, and content that their children were consuming via screens. In addition, MRI scans of the children were also taken in an attempt to quantify and physically observe the impacts.

The team concluded that high screen usage by children was linked to "lower measures of microstructural organization and myelination of brain white matter tracts that support language and emergent literacy skills". And that this finding was backed conclusively by MRI scans and "corresponding cognitive assessments".

This study found an association between increased screen-based media use, compared with the AAP guidelines, and lower microstructural integrity of brain white matter tracts supporting language and emergent literacy skills in prekindergarten children.

Jargon aside, what that basically means is that the white matter, which plays a vital role in the brain's internal communication network, is changed. In particular, the structure of the nerve fibers and the insulation by the myelin sheath, which are both essential for electrical impulses to transmit and linked to cognitive functions, suffered from what the researchers called decreased "white matter integrity".

While the researchers did show that there is definitely a correlation between the two - screen use and low white matter integrity - they concluded that "further study is needed, particularly during the rapid early stages of brain development."

For more information and the specifics, you may refer to the study published here.

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